While many people believe that a helmet with MIPS technology does a better job at preventing head injuries than non-MIPS helmets, there are still some who are on the fence about its effectiveness.
In this article, we’ll explain what MIPS helmet technology is and how it protects the head against the risk of brain injury. More importantly, we’ll take a deep dive into the question ‘is MIPS worth it?’, or whether it’s just another marketing tactic that helmet manufacturers use to increase profits.
The most recent independent research studies conclude that MIPS, along with alternative systems, like WaveCel and SPIN, is effective in reducing the likelihood of suffering rotational brain injuries caused by oblique impact.
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What is MIPS?
Let’s take a look at an overview of what MIPS means, how it came into being, and what it is that we are talking about here, so then we can make a valued assessment as to whether MIPS is worth it or not.
What does MIPS stand for?
MIPS stands for Multi-Directional Impact Protection System, a brain protection technology founded by a Stockholm-based company of the same name. The original Multi-Directional Impact Protection System was a low friction layer made of polymer plastic that is part of the interior of the helmet. Currently, there are several versions of MIPS made from different materials.
Who created MIPS?
Swedish neurosurgeon Hans van Holst and Royal Institute of Technology researcher Peter Halldin conceptualized this pioneering technology in 1996 to create safer headgear for helmet-wearing activities and professions.
After years of research and testing, they finally made the prototype of a MIPS helmet in the year 2000, which aimed to reduce the rotational forces that can affect the brain in case the wearer hits their head in an angled impact during a fall.
Video: MIPS Lab Testing the Brain Protection System
In the early days, MIPS helmet technology was primarily focused on bicycle and snow-sport helmets but has since expanded into the fields of equestrian helmets, hockey, football, motorcycle, and race car helmets.
Industries requiring the use of safety helmets, such as the construction industry, also benefit from MIPS technology.
More than two decades later, MIPS continues to build partnerships with helmet brands not only to enhance the wearer’s riding experience but more importantly, to decrease the number of brain injuries resulting from accidents.
If you see a helmet with a yellow dot and the MIPS logo, then it is fitted with the MIPS brain protection system.
MIPS certified helmets
MIPS is not a safety certification system and does not replace the existing helmet safety standard certifications such as ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials), CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission), DOT (Department of Transport), etc.
Irrespective of whether a helmet is a MIPS or non-MIPS helmet, all bicycle helmets in the United States must have bike helmet certification from the CPSC, and all motorcycle helmets must have DOT certification if they are to be used on the open road.
MIPS is an optional addition to a helmet, a helmet feature, which simply enhances the effectiveness of the helmet’s level of safety.
How Does MIPS Work?
Imagine this. A cyclist accidentally hits a bump in the road, causing him to lose control of his bike. When the cyclist falls to the ground, at what angle do you think he will hit his head? Will the cyclist’s head smack the pavement vertically, just like when a fruit drops from a tree?
Certainly not. Such a scenario is where non-MIPS helmets lack the capability to provide the needed head protection. The MIPS technology resolves this issue. A MIPS-equipped helmet protects the head against rotational and angular impacts, which are likely to happen if you fall from a bike or motorcycle head first.
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The MIPS slip plane technology is typically a yellow polycarbonate layer that sits between the helmet’s EPS (Expanded PolyStyrene) layer and the helmet wearer’s head. The MIPS slip plane connects to the inside of the helmet by elastomeric attachments which allow movement of about 10 – 15 millimeters, in any direction.
During an impact, the shock absorbing EPS foam liner provides the first layer of protection by absorbing the initial force of impact. Then, the sliding movement of the MIPS slip plane system allows the head to move slightly which slows down and reduces the amount of force transferred to the brain because of the impact.
Video: Tipperary does a good job of explaining MIPS in this video.
How Important Is MIPS?
In most sports and recreational activities that necessitate the wearing of a helmet, oblique impacts are far more common than linear impacts, thus, the likelihood of rotational injuries are increased.
Rotational injuries don’t just refer to concussions, but also coma brought on by diffuse axonal injury (DAI) (the tearing of nerve fibers in the brain), or even subdural hematomas or bleeding in the cranial cavity.
So, you can see just how important MIPS can be for anyone who could potentially be affected from any rotational impact.
The integration of MIPS technology into helmets is important to prevent rotational forces from being transferred to the brain from an angled impact.
Are MIPS Helmets Safer?
Giving this question a straightforward answer is a challenge. After all, all helmets, whether they are equipped with the MIPS low friction layer or not, must pass safety standards before they can be legally sold.
However, the Research Study results outlined below, support that MIPS helmet technology does reduce strain to the brain caused by rotational forces, and, as such could support the argument of MIPS helmets being safer than non-MIPS helmets.
Study #1: Impact Performance Comparison of Advanced Bicycle Helmets with Dedicated Rotation-Damping Systems – July 2019.
This 2019 study tested several types of helmets to find out which one is more effective in protecting the brain from risks of serious injuries. It included five different types of bike helmets in the testing environment.
Those were standard helmets with a polycarbonate shell and EPS liner, MIPS slip plane liner helmets, Omni-Direction Suspension helmets with elastic dampers, Low-Density Layer helmets with viscoelastic padding, and SPIN helmets with silicone padding.
Each helmet group was subjected to drop tests that used a testing rig where the helmets drop to an anvil which sits at an angle of 45-degrees from the floor.
The results of the study showed that the MIPS and SPIN helmets were more successful in reducing the risk of brain trauma and injuries by 42% and 54% respectively.
Study #2: Impact Performance Comparison of Advanced Snow Sport Helmets with Dedicated Rotation-Damping Systems – February 2021
Results from this study on snow sport helmets, published in February 2021, further supports previous findings that helmets equipped with rotation-damping systems can reduce rotational acceleration and the risks of injuries related to it.
The snow sports helmets tested included standard helmets and helmets with MIPS and WaveCel technologies.
QUOTE: “In conclusion, rotation-damping systems of advanced snow sport helmets can significantly reduce rotational head acceleration and the associated concussion risk. ”
Study #3: A New Assessment of Bicycle Helmets: The Brain Injury Mitigation Effects of New Technologies in Oblique Impacts – May 2021
Another study was published in May 2021 to determine the effectiveness of new bike helmet technologies in mitigating rotational brain injuries caused by oblique forces. The study tested several types of helmets including road, MTB, and urban/skate helmets.
Some of the test helmets were conventional helmets while the others were equipped with safety-enhancing technology such as MIPS, SPIN, WaveCel, and Airbag.
Based on the test results, the helmets with new technologies performed better in reducing brain strain due to oblique impact.
QUOTE: “When comparing … helmet versions with and without MIPS, we find that strain measures in all brain regions are reduced with the MIPS versions.”
The following video gives a simplified explanation of how MIPS works. Well worth a watch.
Does MIPS Make A Difference?
Even before MIPS technology existed, standard helmets have been tested for safety to help ensure that cyclists, bikers, motocross riders and other sports persons are protected from suffering head and brain injuries should they figure in an accident.
However, current safety certification testing procedures only test a helmet’s capacity in reducing direct or linear impact but not rotational impact. It is also noteworthy that the impact of real-life accidents on a person’s head can be different from the impact produced during helmet safety testing.
Perhaps it’s time for the relevant authorities to review their testing procedures to at least acknowledge the need to include oblique impact testing.
The MIPS company provides that helmets with the MIPS feature can reduce the impact of rotational forces by 10%. However, they do not claim that MIPS-equipped helmets are safer than regular helmets. Nor do they say that MIPS helmets can reduce concussions or the risk of brain damage.
If the pioneers of the MIPS technology say that MIPS only reduces the effect of rotational impact, and do not claim that MIPS-equipped helmets are safer than non-MIP helmets, then the question remains – is MIPS worth it?
Is MIPS Worth It?
Considering the conclusions of the research findings presented above, there really is no reason for anybody to still be on the fence as to whether MIPS is worth it or not.
The proof is really in the pudding especially when we also take into consideration the number of helmet manufacturers that have either taken MIPS onboard or developed their own helmet rotation damping systems with improved helmet design.
Take Bontrager helmets for example, having begun with Wavecel, which is an excellent system in its own right, Bontrager now offers several helmet models with a choice of either Wavecel or MIPS. Now, why would that be?
But it’s not just Bontrager, POC developed their own system known as SPiN (Shearing Pad Inside), yet they now have a strong leaning toward MIPS with SPiN all but gone from their cycling helmets.
In September 2021, POC had 3 MIPS cycling helmets and 9 SPIN cycling helmets on their North America website. Eleven months later, August 2022, that same website shows a complete reversal in favor of MIPS with ten MIPS cycling helmet versus only two SPIN cycling helmets.
In August 2021, POC had no MIPS snow helmets, however, now their snow helmets swing in favor of MIPS with 9 MIPS to only 4 SPIN snow helmets.
Of course, the above phasing out of SPiN by POC has been in the pipeline for a couple of years now but is clearly a big vote in favor of MIPS by POC sports.
In addition, the independent testing conducted by the Swedish Folksam Insurance Group, as well as the results from Virginia Tech’s bike helmet ratings tests over recent years, along with the numerous positive reviews on many websites by MIPS helmet purchasers, it would be fair to conclude that “Yes, MIPS is worth it”.
The MIPS helmet debate appears to be over. The helmet industry has made their preferences clear by their continuing adoption of MIPS-equipped helmets. Even in retail, non-mips versions of helmets are being passed over in favor of the MIPS version.
What consumers can take away from this is: with MIPS technology, riders can be more confident that they will receive better protection against rotational forces by at least 10%. This percentage, though may seem modest, is still better than nothing, if it means reducing the probability of traumatic brain injuries.
This boy is hoping his Mom bought him the MIPS version of the helmet.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q. Should I get a MIPS helmet?
A. If you treat your helmet like it’s something that’s not so important, then probably not. If you are going to look after your helmet like your life depended on it, then absolutely, get a MIPS helmet for all the reasons listed in this article.
Q. How does MIPS affect price?
A. Any helmet, if it is equipped with a unique feature, can merit a higher price tag. If the additional feature aims to protect the brain, then a few more dollars is reasonable. Helmets with the MIPS low friction layer are typically slightly more expensive than non-MIPS helmets but can cost as low as $30 up to $300 or even higher, depending on the brand and size of the helmet.
Q. Is a MIPS helmet necessary?
A. For someone who doesn’t mind spending a few dollars more in exchange for peace of mind, a MIPS helmet is definitely worth it. However, others may feel that a non-MIPS helmet, as long as it is of high quality, from a reputable helmet manufacturer, and has passed bike helmet safety certification, can be good enough to protect them from injury.